Do you want to stop negative thoughts from affecting you so much?
Do you get stuck in thought patterns that lead to anxiety, fear, and worry?
What if I told you that there’s a way to deal with negative thoughts?
You see, I’ve been battling negative thinking patterns my whole life. I’ve battled with my inner critic. I’ve had to learn how to transcend negative self-talk.
I’ve tried many of the systems and methods out there, and I’ve found what works for me.
In this article, you’ll discover one of my favorite ways of transcending negative thinking.
What is a Negative Thought?
At its core, a negative thought is not inherently negative. It’s simply a thought. What makes it negative is how you label it, and then how you react to that label.
As Epictetus once said:
It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
To illustrate: Think of something neutral, like a tree or a rock. Now, think of something like money, relationships, or even death.
The difference between them is the thinking you have about them. How do I know? Because we all have different thinking about different subjects, so we all feel differently about them.
Why Do We Have Negative Thought Patterns?
They often serve a purpose we are not aware of at this moment.
For example, I used to worry about money a lot. It seemingly helped me to take action and come up with creative business ideas.
As I looked deeper, I discovered that there was a better approach.
An approach of following my inspiration, and trusting life.
So there may be a reason for why you have certain negative thought patterns. As you let go of the old, you allow new patterns to emerge.
Note that I’m not saying you can prevent negative thoughts from arising. I’m saying that you can change how you react to them, which will help stop further negative thinking, and further suffering.
How to Stop Negative Thinking — Video
Below is a video of me diving deeper into the topic of how to stop negative thoughts. The video complements the article, so feel free to watch it, and then continue reading.
Step #1 – Awareness
The first step is to notice when a thought appears that brings up a negative feeling within you.
For example, if I have a thought about not having enough money, I can observe it, which makes me less likely to get caught up in the story it weaves.
I don’t try to tell myself that I have enough money. Instead, I let the thought be.
When I let the thought be, it often dissolves by itself, because I’m not giving it fuel by resisting or trying to change it.
The more I’ve done this, the more aware of my patterns I’ve become. If you want to increase your awareness, try awareness practices such as qigong, yoga, tai chi, or meditation.
I’ve been meditating regularly since 2006, and it has made a noticeable difference in my ability to not get sucked into negative thinking patterns.
And no, you don’t have to meditate for years before you see results.
Step #2 – Dive In
In most cases, all I need is the first step. But if a thought pattern keeps returning, I may examine what’s going on beneath the surface.
Staying with my money example, let’s say I feel fear about not having enough money.
I’ll examine it by asking myself questions. I often do this with pen and paper, because it’s easy to get stuck in mental loops if you try to do it in your head.
I might ask:
- What specifically am I afraid of?
- What is the worst that can happen?
- Is that the truth?
- How do I know?
- Where’s the evidence?
- What are the pro’s and con’s of believing this?
I don’t necessarily look for any one thing. These questions are just to get me acquainted with what’s going on.
I want to get to the feeling, or sensation, of this thought or belief. I want it to be as intense as possible for the third and final step.
Step #3 – Embrace
So I’m in the thought. I’m feeling it. I’m afraid of not having enough money, and what that will mean for me and my family.
I see the images in my head of what that fear represents.
Now, I embrace the feeling or sensation completely. The questions above, and the visualization, help me get in touch with the feeling in my body.
I notice where it is. For me it’s usually in my chest or stomach area. I notice wanting to constrict and withdraw from the world, to defend myself.
And then I welcome it all. I don’t resist the feeling. I open myself completely to it. I surrender. And I let it in like inviting a friend for a warm cup of tea on a cold winter day.
I open all the doors, and melt into the feeling.
When I do this, the feeling dissolves, because it has nothing to fight against. There is only an embrace and a blending.
This fear is a part of me, and I welcome it home. It is welcome here, with whatever message it brings, or whatever part of me it represents.
A side benefit of doing this over and over is that I’ve come to know, in my body, that negative thoughts and feelings are only messengers. They are not to be feared, but to be embraced.
If you want more details on how this is done, watch the video below.
What If You Still Can’t Stop Negative Thinking?
When I seem unable to stop a negative thought, it’s often a sign that I’ve discovered another layer to it, or that I’m trying too hard to avoid it.
Many fears are multi-layered, especially core fears around money, relationships, death, and other sensitive topics.
If a thought persists, I don’t try too hard to get rid of it. I might explore it, and keep embracing it, or I might leave it for another day.
If I leave it, I use step #1 to keep being aware of it as best as I can. I do my best to not resist that it’s still there.
Because sometimes I have bad days, where I feel a bit anxious, and that’s okay. Everyone has good days. Everyone has bad days.
The key is not to try to push them away, but be in whatever experience you’re in. Be in the present moment completely.
(My favorite book on being in the now is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.)
I don’t “work hard” at this. This is not about fixing myself. I’m simply aware of how my experience is created, and I follow what resonates with me. I follow my inner guidance. It’s easy to overthink these things, so go easy on yourself.
Here’s a video on overthinking that’s especially relevant to dealing with negative thoughts:
The Simple Summary
If you want to learn how to stop negative thoughts, realize that it’s not about stopping thoughts, but about changing how you relate to those initial thoughts.
Let the negativity and fear dance in your body. Let it in. Let it expand. Welcome it.
There is nothing wrong. You don’t have to be happy all the time. In fact, you cannot.
Negative thoughts have no inherent power over you. They come and they go.
As you begin to apply this 3-step process, you’ll realize that there’s nothing to be afraid of. That in turn will translate into you being more courageous in your everyday life.
You’ll start going after your dreams.
You’ll smile more.
You’ll have more fun.
Are you ready to experience that?
Then use what you’ve just learned, and tango with whatever you’re experiencing.
All the best,
P.S. If you’d like to learn how to take things to the next level, and start doing what you love, I invite you to check out my book, Follow Your Heart: 21 Days to a Happier, More Fulfilling Life.
P.P.S. The links in this post to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I get a small share of any purchase at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for the support!
I can’t speak for everyone but for only myself, a lot of my negative thinking, beliefs were because I had developed a “perfectionist” character trait. Since character is malleable, this was pretty easy to recognize and stop doing. There is a good book out on Perfectionism. With perfectionism along with other features is “all or nothing thinking”. For example if one person at school is unfriendly then you conclude you’re unpopular, unattractive, unlikeable…and you dwell on it.
Absolutely. Thanks for sharing.
And if anyone is interested, I have a post on perfectionism here: https://www.wakeupcloud.com/destroy-perfectionism/
Sam Crespi says
Great post, Henri! The inviting in that eases one’s tension, a process which leaves room to expand and move forward. I think this perspective is vital to the chaos and the unknowns of our time. It allows us to return to the potential, the spaciousness of the moment.
Thank you for posting.
You’re right on, Sam. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂
I was professionally treated for this. I found it super helpful.
It is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Basically it is 6-10 sessions with a psychologist. Takes no time and benefits are great.
Thanks for the tip, Jesse!
There’s a book on this topic that may be of interest for others. It’s called Ten Days to Self-Esteem, and it’s basically a workbook that guides you through everything. Here’s the link: http://amzn.to/2ddGgVa
thanks for this article. i am dealing with alot of negative thoughts. i hope they stop
This article was very helpful. I had the fear of death. I’ve learned to I’m embrace my fears and go on. Thank you very much, i’m 14 but I can understand this very much
You are a wise man, Henry! Great article as always! Thanks!
Thank you for the article. I think I’m also more of a perfectionist. I always have that fear of what I do is not good enough. I always have that negative thought that somebody else is better than me. Will try my utmost best just to relax and take it easy.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I realize I give power to negativity by thinking I can change a situation by overthinking it, trying to outsmart it, having mental conversations with offenders (persons and situations). And, yes, I, too, believe it comes from my perfectionist streak…”If I can’t outsmart this situation…then there must be something wrong with me!” I have taken baby steps out of this thinking by ‘back-talking’ logic to myself, and your information encourages me to continue.